The 12 best documentaries to stream this March, from The Crime of the Century to The Sparks Brothers

The Sparks Brothers, Final Account, I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, The Crime of the Century, The Last Cruise, & more

THE SPARKS BROTHERS | Stream from 21 March 2022

How can one rock band be successful, underrated, hugely influential, and criminally overlooked all at the same time? With commentary from celebrity fans like Flea, Beck, Jason Schwartzman, Neil Gaiman, and more, The Sparks Brothers takes audiences on a musical odyssey through five weird and wonderful decades with brothers and bandmates Ron and Russell Mael, celebrating the inspiring legacy of Sparks: your favourite band’s favourite band.

The debut documentary from cult director Edgar Wright (Baby DriverShaun of the Dead), The Sparks Brothers earned the Maels The Unforgettables award at the 2022 Cinema Eye Honours Awards, and was nominated for four 2021 Critics Choice Documentary Awards: Most Compelling Living Subject, Best Music Documentary, Best First Documentary and Best Director. It also featured prominently at Rotten Tomatoes’ Golden Tomatoes Awards, where it was named the fifth best-reviewed documentary, the seventh best limited-release movie, and the 21st best-reviewed movie overall of 2021, with a 98% critics rating. 

As the Rotten Tomatoes’ critics consensus puts it, “Their albums may be cult favourites, but this Edgar Wright-directed documentary offers an introduction to Sparks that has something for everyone.”

FINAL ACCOUNT | Stream from 21 March 2022

Distilled from over 300 interviews conducted by the late British documentary filmmaker Luke Holland, Final Account is an urgent portrait of the last living generation of everyday people to participate in Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. In never-seen-before interviews, men and women, ranging from former SS members to civilians, reckon – in very different ways – with their memories, perceptions and personal appraisals of their own roles in one of the greatest human crimes in history.

The documentary was nominated for two 2021 Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards, including Best Historical or Biographical Documentary, and has a 93% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Guardian calls Final Account, “A simple, unadorned study of everyday evil, …the past speaking to the present.” The Times gave it a 4/5-star review, calling it, “Timely and ominous.” Rolling Stone says it’s “a reminder that we’re on the verge of seeing history repeat itself.” And Slant Magazine praises it as a “reminder of how everyday people can become complicit in incomprehensible evil.”

I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK | Binge from 18 March 2022

Based on the work of late American true crime author Michelle McNamara, the HBO documentary series I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is both a gripping examination of the crimes of the Golden State Killer who terrorized California in the 1970s and 1980s, and the moving story of one woman’s relentless pursuit of justice for his victims.    

Helmed by two-time Oscar nominee Liz Garbus (The Fourth EstateThe Farm: Angola, USAThe Handmaid’s Tale), the series won two Cinema Eye Honors Awards in 2021 and holds a 96% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, where the critics consensus calls it, “a heavy, but important tapestry of trauma, obsession, and survival.” 

The series is executive produced by – and features – actor Patton Oswalt, McNamara’s husband, who, along with her researcher Paul Haynes, and journalist and true crime writer Billy Jensen, completed her book – I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer – and went on to witness its impact. 

THE CRIME OF THE CENTURY

From Oscar- and Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, The Inventor), The Crime of the Century is a searing indictment of big pharma and the political operatives and government regulations that enable over-production, reckless distribution and abuse of synthetic opiates. 

With the help of whistleblowers, newly leaked documents, exclusive interviews, sobering testimony from victims of opioid addiction, and access to behind-the-scenes investigations, Gibney’s exposé posits that drug companies are in fact largely responsible for manufacturing the very crisis they profit from, to the tune of billions of dollars – and thousands of lives.

Produced in association with The Washington Post, The Crime of the Century was named Best Political Documentary at the 2021 Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards, where it was also up for Best Documentary Feature and Best Narration for Gibney.

The two-part HBO documentary has a 95% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, where it was the sixth best-rated docuseries of 2021. As FilmWeek says, “Only Alex Gibney can get his arms around the behemoth that is the opioid crisis in America… It will open your eyes and make you angry.”

THE LAST CRUISE

A terrifying origin story of the pandemic, HBO’s 40-minute documentary The Last Cruise chronicles the first big outbreak of the novel coronavirus outside China: the Diamond Princess cruise liner. 

As the uncontained outbreak on the luxury vessel at the start of the pandemic in January 2020 became a global spectacle and a faraway symbol of the new virus and its potential to upend any sense of normalcy, passengers aboard the ill-fated cruise ship were quarantined in their staterooms for weeks as the crew tended to the sick, delivered room service and slept and dined in cramped, shared quarters. Through never-before-seen footage from passengers and crew, we watch class divisions erupt as humanity misses its chance to contain Covid-19.

Directed by Hannah Olsen (Baby God), The Last Cruise has a 100% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and was nominated for Best Short Documentary at the 2021 Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards, with The Film Stage calling it “a vital and horrifying record of a crisis that we should have quickly learned from, that captures the moment with the immediacy of Facebook Live or Snapchat.”

JOHN WAYNE GACY: DEVIL IN DISGUISE

John Wayne Gacy: Devil In Disguise follows the chilling story of one of the world’s most notorious serial killers, as told through the words of Gacy himself, those who were forever changed by his unspeakable deeds, and those who believe that the full truth remains concealed to this day.

Directed by Emmy-nominated producer Rod Blackhurst (Amanda KnoxWelcome to Earth), this comprehensive six-part documentary series details the case that shook the world, drawing on a multi-hour death-row interview with Gacy himself, most of which has never been seen before, along with exclusive audio and video interviews. Almost fifty years since the crimes took place, new questions are emerging about what really happened, and who else may have played a part in the deaths of Gacy’s 33 victims.

The docuseries has a 100% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with AV Club saying, “John Wayne Gacy is dead, and Devil In Disguise is correct in that whatever is left to say about him isn’t a horror story about an evil criminal mastermind, but a cautionary tale of a serial predator who went unpunished because he looked and acted like the men who were supposed to stop him.”

BLACK ART: IN THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT

Directed by Oscar nominee and five-time Emmy winner Sam Pollard (MLK/FBIWhen the Levees Broke), the HBO documentary film Black Art: In the Absence of Light explores the oft-neglected contributions of African American artists to both the art world and American culture at large.

Opening with the landmark exhibition “Two Centuries of Black American Art” curated by the late David Driskell at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the documentary looks at the major Black art movements of the past half-century, and speaks to contemporary luminaries like Jordan Casteel, Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems and Kehinde Wiley, among others.

The documentary has a 92% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with Boston Globe calling it “an essential and revelatory glimpse at the accomplishments of today’s Black artists,” and Wall Street Journal saying, “The film never dips into saccharine platitudes, and it is unafraid to examine the defects within artistic movements that, while fighting for racial justice, had their own blindspots.”

ADRIENNE

Waitress, starring Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion, won five international awards in 2007 – the year after its writer-director, Adrienne Shelly, was brutally murdered. It went on to inspire the hit Broadway musical, penned by Grammy winner Sara Bareilles.

Directed and produced by Shelly’s husband Andy Ostroy, Adrienne is an intensely personal look at Shelly’s life, death and career, featuring the likes of Russell, Fillion, Bareilles, actor Paul Rudd, and director Hal Hartley, who gave Shelly her acting break in The Unbelievable Truth and the Sundance winner Trust.

Adrienne has a 100% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with Decider praising it as “heart-breaking and bittersweet… an understated, deeply personal essay about grief.” As Indiewire warns, “Bring tissues.”

GIRLS CAN’T SURF

It’s the 1980s and the world of professional surfing is a circus of fluro colours, peroxide hair and male egos. Girls Can’t Surf follows the journey of a band of renegade surfers who took on the male-dominated professional surfing world to achieve equality and change the sport forever. 

Featuring surfing greats Jodie Cooper, Frieda Zamba, Pauline Menczer, Lisa Andersen, Pam Burridge, Wendy Botha, Layne Beachley and more, Girls Can’t Surf is a wild ride of clashing personalities, sexism, adventure and heartbreak, with each woman fighting against the odds to make their dreams of competing a reality.

Nominated for Best Documentary at the 2021 Australian Academy Awards, Girls Can’t Surf has a 100% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes. “The film is a great tribute to all of these athletes and a timely reminder of everything that led up to the decision to raise the women’s prize money to parity with the men’s just two years ago,” says Sydney Morning Herald, adding, “The current generation has much to thank them for.”

A CHOICE OF WEAPONS: INSPIRED BY GORDON PARKS

“I might have turned to the gun or the knife, but by then I had chosen the camera,” says Gordon Parks in the trailer for this critically acclaimed HBO documentary. A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks explores the enduring legacy of the legendary photographer, whose work brought the Black community’s struggle for dignity and justice to middle America on the pages of LIFE magazine from 1948 to 1972.

Directed by Emmy winner John Maggio (Mr. Saturday Night, The Perfect Weapon) and executive produced by Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean and Alicia Keys, the documentary traces Parks’s impact on three contemporary photographers: Devin Allen, whose photograph “Baltimore Uprising” of the Freddie Gray protests was featured on the cover of Time; LaToya Ruby Frazier, who for five years followed the Flint, Michigan water crisis; and Jamel Shabazz, whose photographs on the streets of New York form a visual history of the hip-hop era while simultaneously presenting affirming images for his community.

Also look out for interviews with the likes of filmmakers Spike Lee and Ava DuVernay, The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb, actor Richard Roundtree, historian Khalil Muhammad, and the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy. 

BY WHATEVER MEANS NECESSARY: THE TIMES OF GODFATHER OF HARLEM

The four-episode docuseries By Whatever Means Necessary: The Times of Godfather of Harlem, executive produced by Godfather of Harlem star Forest Whitaker and Swizz Beatz, examines the story of Harlem, its music during the 1960s and its connections to today.

The series earned director Keith McQuirter (Brick City) the 2021 Image Award for Outstanding Directing in a Documentary, and features conversations with the likes of Emmy-nominated actor Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad), music legends Herbie Hancock, Gladys Knight, Harry Belafonte and Nile Rodgers, activists Jamal Joseph, Al Sharpton and Denise Oliver-Velez, historians and residents of Harlem itself.

SHARK WITH STEVE BACKSHALL

British explorer, naturalist, and presenter Steve Backshall has dedicated his life to revealing the wonder of sharks. Shark With Steve Backshall is a three-part docuseries tracking Steve’s journey to the remotest parts of our planet, from the sun-drenched tropics to the mysterious depths of our oceans, to meet the incredible variety of sharks upon which the health of our oceans depends, and the passionate people fighting to change attitudes and save these feared and misunderstood predators.

Teaming up with leading scientists, Steve reveals stunning discoveries – glow-in-the-dark sharks, sharks that walk on land, and ancient sharks over 400 years old, with antifreeze in their blood… 

He also takes viewers night-swimming with an 18-metre whale shark in the Maldives, chases the sardine run off South Africa’s coast, and finds out what’s behind the mysterious disappearance of Cape Town’s great whites. 

BONUS: NOT A DOCUMENTARY, BUT A NON-FICTION MUST WATCH

ZIWE S1 | Binge now

Born in the US to Nigerian parents, Ziwe Fumudoh blasted onto the scene with her YouTube show Baited with Ziwe, cut her teeth on shows like The Rundown with Robin Thede, and picked up a Writer’s Guild of America award for Desus & Mero in 2021. Now she has her own late-night talk show and variety show, Ziwe, a no-holds-barred mix of musical numbers, interviews and sketches that challenge our discomfort with race, politics, and other cultural issues. 

Ziwe’s first season features the likes of activist Gloria Steinem, The Real Housewives of New York City star Eboni K. Williams, actress Cristin Milioti (Palm Springs, The Wolf of Wall Street), and author Fran Lebowitz (Pretend It’s a City). 

Vulture hails Ziwe as “iconic” and Vanity Fair says, “Ziwe perfected the art of putting people on the spot,” while Salon.com calls her show “both a true star-making platform and a spoof of the same.”

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